Earlier today, David Todd brought up an interesting subject on Twitter. He posted the numbers of Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay last year, then showed their numbers this year. Since I have a little bit more room to work here than on Twitter, I’ll expand those numbers.
Matt Diaz, 2011, Pittsburgh Pirates: .627 OPS in 216 at-bats
Matt Diaz, 2012, Atlanta Braves: .851 OPS in 41 at-bats
It’s a small sample size (as David noted), but Diaz looked finished in 2011, and he’s hitting again in 2012. I’ll also add that most of his success this year has come against left handers (1.098 OPS in 27 at-bats vs .378 OPS against right handers in 14 at-bats). Diaz was brought in last year because of his success against left handers. He hit for a .692 OPS in 132 at-bats against left handers, with a .550 OPS against right handers.
Then there’s Lyle Overbay…
Lyle Overbay, 2011, Pittsburgh Pirates: .649 OPS in 352 at-bats
Lyle Overbay, 2012, Arizona Diamondbacks: .914 OPS in 49 at-bats
Another small sample size. I’ll add that Overbay also hit for an .840 OPS over 42 at-bats in 2011 after being signed by Arizona late in the season.
This year the Pirates are seeing something similar with Clint Barmes. They were seeing something similar with Rod Barajas until his recent hot streak at the plate. And it’s not just the last two years. This has been going on for a while. Consider Eric Hinske in 2009.
Eric Hinske, 2009, Pittsburgh Pirates: .741 OPS, 1 HR, 106 at-bats
Eric Hinske, 2009, New York Yankees: .828 OPS, 7 HR, 84 at-bats
Hinske was added for his power off the bench. He hit 20 homers with a .798 OPS the previous year with Tampa Bay. His power disappeared with the Pirates (despite being a left hander in the lefty-favored PNC Park), and immediately returned with the Yankees. The following year he had a .793 OPS and 11 homers in 236 at-bats with Atlanta.
The easy solution is to blame the hitting coach. But I’m not so sure it’s that easy. We can blame Overbay, Diaz, and Barmes on Gregg Ritchie. But what about guys like Hinske, before Ritchie came around? It’s definitely possible that the Pirates could have had two bad hitting coaches in a row.
Then there’s the “they’re just washed up, and the Pirates were the only team that didn’t realize it” line. That’s obviously not true, since these guys caught on with other teams after joining the Pirates, and had success after they left. Or, in the case of Barmes, they had teams after them prior to signing.
The success after leaving brings up another issue. Is a hitting coach even important to these guys? Lyle Overbay was in the majors for parts of ten seasons before joining the Pirates. What use does he have for a hitting coach? To me, hitting coaches in the majors seem more like scapegoats. Take the Albert Pujols situation. Are we to believe that Pujols, the best hitter in baseball, was only hitting poorly because of the Angels’ coach? And if that’s the case, do we credit his previous success to all of the hitting coaches in St. Louis?
The Pirates have seen players come in, fail to hit as expected, then leave and hit well. Combine that with the struggles from the young hitters (Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker), and the overall poor offense on the team, and people will naturally be calling for the hitting coach to be fired. It may not be the right thing to do, as I’m not fully convinced that a hitting coach in the majors makes much of a difference. However, I do believe that it’s easier to fire one guy than it is to fire every hitter on the team. And if that message can wake up some of the bats, and get some of the hitters playing to expectations, then it wouldn’t be a bad move to make.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates won 5-4 against the Mets. Kristy Robinson’s notebook looks at how the Pirates continue to battle in close games.
**Prospect Watch: A lot of multi-hit nights for prospects in the system.
**I held my weekly prospects chat today. Here is the transcript.
**Less than 24 hours after being acquired, Drew Sutton was dealt to Tampa Bay. We didn’t even have time to do a player page for him.
**I took a look at why a trade isn’t likely at this point in the season.
**I was a guest on the Rumbunter Podcast last week. You can check it out here (NSFW).
**Charlie at Bucs Dugout had a great article this morning about how the Pirates’ offense has been terrible, but the demands for a trade now should be toned down.+ posts
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.